26 March 2009

Applying for BC "Benefits" - Round and round you go

... and where you'll stop nobody knows.
There is a perverse Catch-22 in play. If you have the dogged determination and cunning needed to find your way through the bureaucratic maze to make a claim for welfare disability benefits, then clearly you're not really that disabled. That seems to be the Kafkaesque policy framework [Mr. B] was operating in. The ministry has as many "persistent multiple barriers" as some of its clients.

Try applying for Disability Benefits, which is one step further than the Persistent Multiple Barriers designation Mr. B sought.

The situation is made worse by the medical forms for DB running to 30 pages and requiring a doctor who has known the applicant for a certain period of time. The problems are threefold:
  1. The 30-page form can be enough to send people with mental health challenges running as fast as they can in the opposite direction.
  2. It can be a challenge for people who haven't lived at the same address for several years to find a family physician. Thus this requirement disproportionately affects people whose lives may be transient due to their health.
  3. The applicant must be well enough to endure the long, invasive and demeaning process. If your illness exhausts you, is developmental, and/or mental, good luck with that!
But let's return to the saga of Mr. B, who we discover sought the help of the ombudsman after his seventh or eighth run-in with the ministry. After examining Mr. B's file, the ombudsman found SEVEN ways in which the ministry failed to carry out its job as prescribed.
[Mr. B] didn't get notice of the first cut-off, he was declared ineligible without an assessment, he wasn't informed, the requests for multiple forms were unfair, the delay was unreasonable, they failed to respond to various letters and they unreasonably delayed the decision for special status.

The ministry's response to those findings was capitulation, to a point. He was made eligible for the persistent multiple barriers status, retroactive to 2006. They paid him the difference he was shorted and backdated his application for another program. He got $5,000 worth of retroactive payments and a written apology.

But it still clung to the position he was ineligible for that status in the future, which prompted another round of reconsideration and appeal. Mr. B finally won the day last December and is now officially a person with persistent multiple barriers, and likely the most experienced of the 7,500 so designated.

Just So You Know: That caseload number (from 2007) is significant because it's about a third less than it was five years ago. The ombudsman says there is no reliable explanation as to why, although Mr. B's story seems to explain a lot.

Indeed it does. Sadly, Mr. B's story is all too familiar to people living at the bottom of BC's poverty well.

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